Jasper City Council members took an opportunity during Tuesday morning’s city council meeting to praise the work of the Jasper Police Department and Walker County Sheriff’s Office during a …
JASPER - Jasper City Council members took an opportunity during Tuesday morning’s city council meeting to praise the work of the Jasper Police Department and Walker County Sheriff’s Office during a protest in downtown Jasper Monday to bring to light racial inequalities in the United States.
The work of the Jasper Police Department and Walker County Sheriff’s Office — specifically Jasper Police Chief J.C. Poe, Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith and Sheriff’s Deputy T.J. Armstrong — was lauded as the catalyst for helping keep the protest peaceful, council members said.
Council members also praised the more than 50 people protesting for the way they handled themselves in circumstances that have become destructive — and often violent — in many cities across the U.S.
“I’m thankful that (Monday) I had a chance to be part of that,” council member Jennifer Williams Smith said, “and I’m so proud of our community for the way things were handled.”
Smith said she, like many others, had fears about what could happen during the protest, given what’s happened in many other cities.
“I have to admit that after a few phone calls I was hesitant about going,” she said, "but my 19-year-old daughter was adamant that we needed to go to be supportive. I think that’s something we need to understand, that there’s a new generation and they are standing for something different, and I’m so proud of them for that.
“We need to listen to them because they are our future leaders,” she added. “We also need to pray for more compassion and understanding. I really appreciate our city police and our county sheriff’s office, because they listened to what the protesters had to say. We need to listen, and we need to speak up. I was so proud of the way things were handled.”
Council member Gary Cowen echoed Smith’s sentiment.
“I want to thank two groups,” Cowen said. “First, the protesters for exercising their constitutionally protected right to protest and their right to freedom of speech, and showing us how it’s done. Secondly, I want to thank our police department and sheriff’s office. They did serve and protect, not only the protesters but those around them. I wish the national media would come and show this to say ‘this is how it’s done.'”
Cowen praised the police department and sheriff’s office for the way they “handled it with class,” and the protesters for “showing how protesting should be.”
“I just want us all to be more conscious of what’s going on around us, and to not spread hate and understand there’s a lot of hurt in this country,” Smith said.
Council member Willie Moore, the lone African-American on the city council, was out of town Monday, but thanked Poe for keeping him informed about what was happening during the protest and the way law enforcement handled the situation.
In a separate matter, Jasper Mayor David O’Mary told city council members the city will not relax its rules regarding certain closings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It goes without saying the coronavirus is real, and it’s a presence in our city,” O’Mary said. “I often get calls asking the city to relax our standards, but I’ve resisted that and I’ll continue to resist that in order to err on the side of caution.”
O’Mary cited the city’s ruling to not allow self-serve drinks and foods at businesses, as well as the closure of the Memorial Park Natatorium and Jasper City Library, as the reason for many calls from citizens.
“I’ve taken a lot of flak for that, but that’s fine,” O’Mary said. “I have no problem taking flak if we save one person from getting coronavirus.”
The ruling is set to expire on July 3, he said, but may be extended beyond that.
“We’re going to manage this city in a conservative fashion,” O’Mary said, “unless you tell me differently.”
In other business, council members:
•held a public hearing and approved a retail table wine license and retail beer license for both on-premise and off-premise consumption for Jasper Bottle and Tap, LLC, located at 1810 Fourth Avenue South.
•adopted a mid-year amendment to the city’s budget in light of a drop in sales tax revenue and lodging taxes in the city caused by temporary business closings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
•heard a report from city purchasing agent Derleda Abrom on trophies and awards for the city’s parks and recreation department.
•adopted a resolution to place several properties on the city’s nuisance abatement ordinance for being unsafe structures and having overgrown grass and weeds.
•adopted a resolution to vacate a portion of a right-of-way on Birmingham Avenue in front of AfterHours Clinic.
•adopted a resolution to vacate a portion of Fourth Avenue just south of 14th Street West.